Babylon

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John2
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Babylon

Post by John2 » Fri Mar 30, 2018 7:46 pm

I was just thinking about how much Babylonian Jews have contributed to Judaism. I suppose it starts with Abraham (at least according to tradition), but there is also Ezra and Hillel, who were hugely influential on the development of the OT and Rabbinic Judaism respectively. And of course the Babylonian Talmud is the mainstream Talmud. And the biblical Hebrew script is said to have been created in Babylon.
Around the year 800 B.C.E., Paleo-Hebrew letters became reworked in Babylon and the surrounding region and evolved as the native Aramaic script. Around 275 years later (circa 525 B.C.E.) the Jews in Babylon, notably Ezra the Scribe, refined the native Aramaic letters and developed Ashuri, the script recognized today as Hebrew.

http://www.jewishmag.com/160mag/origina ... script.htm


It's interesting that this place of exile has also been such an influential center for Judaism, and it's curious that it ultimately led to there being essentially no Jews living there now. By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept ... and had families and worked and studied and taught and then were kicked out. I'm not sure where I'm going with this. Just thinking out loud.
Last edited by John2 on Fri Mar 30, 2018 8:21 pm, edited 3 times in total.
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John2
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Re: Babylon

Post by John2 » Fri Mar 30, 2018 8:18 pm

And I've always thought it was curious that there are Hebrew month names that are Babylonian, as noted here:
The Jerusalem Talmud tells us that the modern names of the months “came up [to Israel] with [the returnees] from Babylon,” at the onset of the second Jewish commonwealth, approximately 350 BCE.

So, why did we begin to use these names? Why didn’t we stick with the biblical practice of referring to months by their number? ...

After we were delivered from Babylonian captivity, however, we started using the names that we became used to using in Babylon. And now, these names served to remind us that G‑d has redeemed us from this second exile.

https://www.chabad.org/library/article_ ... Months.htm
Hm.
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John2
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Re: Babylon

Post by John2 » Fri Mar 30, 2018 8:57 pm

Just some notes for me to check later.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_o ... ws_in_Iraq

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talmudic_ ... _Babylonia

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pumbedita_Academy
At the time, the academies of Pumbedita and Sura became the most influential and dominant yeshivas of the Jewish communities' world, and all Torah decrees and other religious rulings were issued from these Yeshivas to all the Jewish diaspora. Pumbedita Academy served as a field of growth to the greatest Jewish sages for generations to come, among them: Rabbah bar Nahmani ("Rabbah"), Rav Yosef b. Hiyya, Abaye and Amora sage Rava, Savora sages Rabbah Jose and Simuna, and Geonim Rab Rabbah Gaon and Paltoi ben Abbaye Gaon, as well as Sherira Gaon and his son, Hai Gaon. Pumbedita Academy was at its peak during the third and fourth generation of the Amoraim. During the days of the Amora sage Rava, Pumbedita Academy moved to Mahuza (מחוזא, modern al-Mada'in), but after his death, it returned to Pumbedita.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sura_Academy
Abba Arika ("Rav"), arrived at Sura city to find no lively religious public life, and since he was worried about the continuity of the Jewish community in Babylonia, he left his colleague Samuel of Nehardea in Nehardea and began working to establish the yeshiva that would become Sura Academy. Upon Abba Arika's arrival, teachers from surrounding cities and towns descended upon Sura. The Academy of Sura was formally founded in the year 225 AD, several years after Abba Arika's arrival.

The academy's classes were occasionally held at Matha-Mehasia (מתא מחסיא), a suburb of Sura city, and after a while a Torah center was founded there as well. Abba Arika's Sura Academy would eventually grow to include a faculty of 1200 members ...
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nehardea_Academy
Samuel of Nehardea founded the academy, which in time attracted thousands of students. Along with Sura Academy founded by Abba Arika ("Rav"), it opened a new era in which Babylon became the center of Judaism. After Abba Arika's death, many students from Sura moved to Nehardea ... Rav Kahana III's Pum-Nahara Academy was subordinated to Sura Academy ... The academy had a special custom to show respect for the sages of The Land of Israel: When a guest came from the Land of Israel, he taught in the presence of the dean and all students. After the class ended, a long and lively debate was conducted in which the students would inundate the guest with academic questions.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pum-Nahara_Academy
Last edited by John2 on Sat Mar 31, 2018 5:06 pm, edited 4 times in total.
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John2
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Re: Babylon

Post by John2 » Sat Mar 31, 2018 2:38 pm

Here's a book for later reference called The Culture of the Babylonian Talmud by Jeffrey L. Rubenstein (and it looks pretty good so far).

https://books.google.com/books?id=GwM5T ... ud&f=false
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John2
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Re: Babylon

Post by John2 » Sat Mar 31, 2018 4:32 pm

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Re: Babylon

Post by John2 » Sat Mar 31, 2018 5:23 pm

From the Jewish Encyclopedia on Babylonian academies:
But for the four centuries covering the period from Ezra to Hillel there are no details; and the history of the succeeding two centuries, from Hillel to Judah I., furnishes only a few scanty items on the state of learning among the Babylonian Jews. Sherira Gaon, in his famous letter (the chief source of information on the Babylonian schools) referring to those dark centuries, wrote: "No doubt, here in Babylonia public instruction was given in the Torah; but besides the exilarchs there were no recognized heads of schools until the death of Rabbi [Judah I.]." The principal seat of Babylonian Judaism was Nehardea, where there certainly was some institution of learning. A very ancient synagogue, built, it was believed, by King Jehoiachin, existed in Nehardea. At Huẓal, near Nehardea, there was another synagogue, not far from which could be seen the ruins of Ezra's academy.

In the period before Hadrian, Akiba, on his arrival at Nehardea on a mission from the Sanhedrin, entered into a discussion with a resident scholar on a point of matrimonial law (Mishnah Yeb., end). At the same time there was at Nisibis, in northern Mesopotamia, an excellent Jewish college, at the head of which stood Judah ben Betera (Bathyra), and in which many Palestinian scholars found refuge at the time of the persecutions. A certain temporary importance was also attained by a school at Nehar-Peḳod, founded by the Palestinian immigrant Hananiah, nephew of Joshua ben Hananiah, which school might have been the cause of a schism between the Jews of Babylonia and those of Palestine, had not the Palestinian authorities promptly checked Hananiah's ambition.

http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/artic ... -babylonia
Last edited by John2 on Sat Mar 31, 2018 5:48 pm, edited 3 times in total.
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John2
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Re: Babylon

Post by John2 » Sat Mar 31, 2018 5:42 pm

Re: Letter of Rav Sherira Gaon:
In 986/7 CE R. Sherira Gaon (b. circa 906 CE-d.1006 CE) wrote the work that presaged the historical-critical study of early rabbinic literature, the Epistle (Letter) of R. Sherira Gaon. This letter was written in response to a request of the Rabbanite community of Kairwan, Tunisia.

The primary objective of the Epistle was to provide a response to challenges in Kairwan from a group of Jews known as the Karaites, who rejected rabbinic authority. The Epistle’s secondary objective was to establish the authority of the Babylonian academies as the inheritors of the most authentic rabbinic traditions. Communities like Kairwan had developed their own centers of rabbinic learning and were less dependent on the Babylonian academies for legal decisions and functionaries, causing them to reduce their financial support of the Babylonian academies accordingly. R. Sherira sought to convince these communities to rethink their position.

These two objectives find expression in the Epistle’s two major sections. The first section that deals with the antiquity and authenticity of the rabbinic literary tradition provides Kairwan Rabbanites with a response to Karaite claims against the authority of practices based on the literary sources of rabbinic Judaism—the Mishna and the Talmuds. The section that provides a chronology of the Sages attempts to show how Babylonian Jewish Sages were central to the development of the traditions followed by rabbinic Jews from antiquity until R. Sherira’a day ...

Though R. Sherira may not qualify as a modern historian, the queries raised by the Kairwan community remain questions that modern studies of the Mishnah, Talmud, and other early rabbinic literatures still try to answer. Though R. Sherira’s answers may not qualify as acceptable historiography according to today’s standards, it nevertheless remained the starting point for many subsequent scholarly studies of rabbinic literature.

Even into the late twentieth and early twenty-first century, well-known scholars of rabbinic literature like B. M. Lewin, J. N. Epstein, Abraham Weiss, and David Weiss-Halivni considered the Epistle a useful starting point for their historical hypotheses about the formation and history of rabbinic texts. In this respect, he is an early and important pioneer and seminal figure in the field of what was to become the modern critical-historical study of the Mishnah and Talmud.

http://thegemara.com/the-epistle-of-she ... e-mishnah/
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DCHindley
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Re: Babylon

Post by DCHindley » Sat Mar 31, 2018 6:51 pm

John 2,

You might try R. Jacob Neusner's A History of the Jews in Babylonia, 5 volumes, Wipf and Stock:

Part I: The Parthian Period (ISBN: 9781606080740), 12/15/2008, $25.60 US
Part II: The Early Sasanian Period (ISBN: 9781606080757), 7/15/2008, $33.60 US
Part III: From Shapur I to Shapur II (ISBN: 9781606080764), 12/11/08, $38.40 US
Part IV: The Age of Shapur II (ISBN: 9781606080771), 10/27/2008, $45.60 US
Part V: Later Sasanian Times (ISBN: 9781606080788), 12/11/2008, $44.80 US

I have only the first volume, as it relates to the period of religious development that appeals to me, but all of Neusner's historical works are very well researched, even if one does not always agree with the reasoning he employs to justify his historical explanations.

Those prices are the "web prices" advertised today on the Wipf and Stock web site, but you can probably find remaindered, trade and used copies for less.

DCH

John2
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Re: Babylon

Post by John2 » Sat Mar 31, 2018 7:21 pm

Thanks, DC. It's been about twenty years since I've thought about this kind of stuff and I want to take a fresh look at everything.
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John2
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Re: Babylon

Post by John2 » Sat Apr 07, 2018 6:58 pm

I took a look at what I can see of Rubenstein's and Neusner's books on Google books and am now wishing for a Reader's Digest version of Babylonian Jewish history. I don't think I'm ready yet for chapter titles like "From Phraates IV to Vologases I."

In the meantime, I find myself thinking about what books in the OT were written or set in Babylonia, and I suppose offhand it would start with Genesis, then 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Esther (if Susa counts as part of Babylonia), Psalms, second and maybe third Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jonah and Daniel, and that seems like a significant chunk of the OT, and I wouldn't mind taking another look at them in this light.

Josephus seems like the next best source. As this "Reader's Digest" webpage notes:
The little that is known of the Jews there at the time comes from the quill of Josephus Flavius: they were very numerous and their brethren in Judea sought their help while preparing their revolt against Rome. This Roman historian also mentions two episodes which he most probably learned from literary fragments: the adventure of two brothers from Nechardea who had founded a kind of thieves-state near the city of Seleucia, and the famous conversion of the king of Adiabene to Judaism.

https://www.myjewishlearning.com/articl ... n-babylon/


This webpage goes on to say:
It is only after the fall of the Second Temple (70 C.E.) and the Bar Kokhba Revolt (132-135 C.E.) that one can truly follow the history of Babylonian Jewry, which becomes even clearer after the fall of the Parthian regime and the accession of the Sassian dynasty (224 C.E.). Sources relating to the first two centuries of the Christian era make no mention in any form of organized Torah studies in Babylonia and note hardly any Babylonian scholars. We do know that Rabbi Akiva, in his many travels, arrived in Nechardea where he announced the leap year.

After Bar Kokhba’s revolt, we hear for the first time about groups of sages who “went down” to Babylonia, undoubtedly following the religious persecution which followed the crushing of the revolt. In Babylon, the nephew of Rabbi Joshua, Hanania, attempted to proclaim the order of the Hebrew calendar, a prerogative which until then had been indisputably reserved for the leadership in Palestine. Although Hanania was forced to make a retraction, it was nevertheless the first manifestation of Babylonian independence from the Palestinian center.


But the place to start seems to be the OT.
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